Polk Co. sees 32% rise in COVID-19 cases, omicron variant likely circulating, health officials say

Coronavirus

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – As 2021 comes to an end, a familiar storyline is emerging about COVID-19.

It’s on the rise again.

Northern states have been grappling with soaring COVID-19 numbers for the last few weeks and now, Florida is trending upwards too.

The state reported 29,568 new cases in the week ending December 16. There were 13,481 the week before.

Polk County saw a 32% increase in the same time frame with 495 new cases reported last week.

“Polk County cases have been increasing. We are expressing a level of concern and we are recommending that people become alert,” Florida Department of Health in Polk County spokesperson Pamela Acosta-Torres said.

In comparison during Thanksgiving week, Polk County saw just 301 cases.

“It’s time to start taking those precautions again. We are at substantial transmission as of Dec. 3 so you should be wearing your mask in indoor public spaces,” Acosta-Torres said.

Fewer than 30 people are currently hospitalized at Lakeland Regional Health with COVID-19, according to Dr. Daniel Haight, Vice President of Community Health and Medical Director of Infection Prevention at Lakeland Regional Health.

Fewer than a dozen people need extra oxygen or breathing machines.

When cases peaked this summer with the delta variant, at one point there were nearly 450 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 at Lakeland Regional Health.

“We’ve gone through this before. We have the right team members in the right place with the right education, training and we’re watching the situation very closely,” Dr. Haight said.

The omicron variant has not been detected in Polk County yet but health officials assume it is circulating.

“We know omicron is in the Tampa Bay area, we know it’s contagious and we know that we have a lag in the surveillance that it does take time to get those reports back so we assume that it is,” Dr. Haight said.

“We are not exactly sure what [the rise in cases] is due to but of course we do suspect omicron,” Acosta-Torres said.

Health leaders urge people to be vaccinated and boosted, if they qualify.

Stay home, including from holiday gatherings, if you are sick, and go home if you start to feel sick, Dr. Haight advised.

“If you’re in a crowded indoor area, make sure you’re wearing a good mask, try to keep that social distancing and try to sanitize your hands as much as possible,” he said.

To find COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites, visit Polk County’s website.

To call Polk County’s COVID information hotline, dial 863-519-7911.

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